There was a time when Aston Villa took to Anfield with as much relish as the devil takes to holy water but not any more. Not since Martin O'Neill turned an ordinary Premiership team into an efficient one.

Villa have drawn each of their four away matches this season — two of them were against Arsenal and Chelsea — and seem to have mastered the tactical art of soaking up pressure.

Better still for Villa, opponents Liverpool go into the match at Anfield tomorrow on the back of an uninspiring start to the campaign, having conceded 11 goals in their nine Premiership matches.

If Liverpool are in transition, Villa are heading in the right direction, having emerged as the only unbeaten team in the Premiership. The facts are not as good as they might seem — Villa have drawn six of their nine matches — but the signs remain encouraging.

"We have shown good away form this season and Liverpool have had a bit of an indifferent start," captain Gareth Barry said. "So hopefully this can work in our favour."

It could, of course, work in the opposite direction, especially if Villa are as poor as they were against Fulham last week. But Villa are only a few weeks away from equalling their record of 1998 when they began the season with 12 unbeaten matches.

Their first defeat that season? At home to Liverpool by 4-2 on November 21.

"Equalling 12 matches unbeaten is a big ask," Barry said. "But if we can get something from Anfield, I don't see why we can't do it. There is a big buzz at Villa at the moment and it is exciting to be a player here and a fan. We have had a terrific start."

Olof Mellberg has told Villa that he is ready to pledge his long-term future to the club. The Sweden international defender, who probably would have left Villa Park had David O'Leary remained in charge, has actively sought a new deal since O'Neill took over as manager.

Mellberg, who is in his sixth season at Villa, has 20 months to run of his current deal that expires in the summer of 2008.

O’Neill has hinted he would like to tie up the services of Mellberg and also Gavin McCann, who is enjoying a renaissance, and who also has the same amount of time left on his present contract.

"I haven’t really heard anything myself about a new contract," Mellberg said. "I read something about it in the papers. There are a few of us in a similar situation contract-wise but I would like to stay at Aston Villa if they offer me a new one, definitely.

"I am not looking to leave. It has been a good start to the season and I have felt good personally. There is no reason to say 'no' if there is a new contract offer. My own form has been good all season. I felt strong pre-season and I have felt good the whole season."

Mellberg burst on to the Premiership scene in September 2001 when he performed superlatively for Villa away to Liverpool. Villa won 3-1 that day but Mellberg has not won at Anfield since.

"Liverpool is one of the toughest away games you can face, like Arsenal and Chelsea away," he said. "We will take confidence from having drawn at Chelsea and Arsenal and not having lost away this season also gives confidence.

"It’s also a strength, as well, when you are not playing really, really well and yet still not losing. That is important as well as picking up points when you are playing well.

"It gives confidence when you are not at the top of your game for 90 minutes but at least you don’t lose. That has been important this season."

Mellberg has echoed the sentiments of Barry in believing that Villa were wrong to off-load Peter Crouch to Southampton for #2 million in the summer of 2004. Crouch is now with Liverpool and a regular England international.

"Was it wrong to let Crouch go? If you look at it now, definitely," Mellberg said.

"He has been been doing really well for Liverpool and England so he would have been an asset for all clubs in the Premier League — including us.

"He has proved himself at international level. When he was with Villa, I always felt he was not just good in the air. He has good feet, has scored some goals as well, is still young and with experience he will score more goals."

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